domenica 2 luglio 2017

«Qui recipit vos, me recipit»

One month ago, we celebrated the solemnity of Pentecost, with which Eastertide ends. Soon afterwards we resumed the so-called Ordinary Time, started after the Epiphany and interrupted with the beginning of Lent; but these last Sundays were replaced by some other important liturgical celebrations (Trinity Sunday; Corpus Christi; the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus). So, today is the first actual Sunday of the Ordinary Time after Pentecost.

We also resume today the reading of Matthew’s gospel, which characterizes this liturgical year. If you remember, when we started the reading of this gospel, we said that Matthew wrote it for Christians of Jewish origin, to show them that Jesus of Nazareth is the expected Messiah of Israel. That is why he structures his gospel dividing it into five parts, as if it were a new Pentateuch, a new Torah or Law. We were saying that each part is subdivided into two sections, a narrative one and a discourse. Before Lent, we read some passages from the first section of Matthew’s gospel—the proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven—especially from the first discourse of Jesus—the so-called “Sermon on the mount.” Today’s selection belongs to the second section—the preaching of the Kingdom of God—in which Jesus chooses, among his disciples, twelve closer collaborators, whom he names “apostles,” which means “those who are sent”—we could say “missionaries.” To them he gives authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness. Sending them on mission, Jesus gives them instructions on how to carry out their task. These instructions constitute the second discourse of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. It is usually called the “apostolic” or “missionary discourse.”

Today we have read the conclusion of this speech. We find in it two points: the conditions and the rewards of discipleship. The conditions Jesus imposes on the apostles are very strict: they cannot love their family—parents and children—more than Jesus. Not only this: they cannot even love themselves more than him. Jesus expects unconditional surrender from his disciples: they cannot have bonds that could restrict or even only delay their mission; the adherence to Christ cannot be part-time, it should be full-time and all-absorbing. In this context, we can understand the invitation of Jesus to take up our cross and follow after him: adhering to Christ means to follow him on his way towards the cross; to identify ourselves with him; to live and work for him, regardless of the consequences that this could entail; to forget ourselves and care only about the Kingdom of God.

The last verses of today’s gospel, more than addressed to the apostles, seem intended for those who will receive them. Those who welcome the apostles will be rewarded: even a cup of cold water will be repaid. In these verses, the apostles are designated with different expressions—prophets; righteous men; little ones. It is useful, in order to understand better their identity and mission: the apostles are like prophets, who speak in the name of God; they should be righteous, that is to say, holy; they are those little ones, to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belong. But these verses are important even for another reason—because they underline the perfect identification of the apostles with Jesus and, through Jesus, with the Father: “Whoever receives you receives me (Qui recipit vos, me recipit), and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” At that time there was a principle, according to which “A man’s agent is like himself.” When someone sends his own representative, this one should be received as if he were the person who has sent him. We are in an embassy: the Italian Ambassador should be considered as the personification of Italy, which sent him. It is not important who the Ambassador is; what matters is that he represents Italy. The same happens with the apostles: we do not care of their personal qualities; the only important thing is that they represent Christ to us. We should see in them, and in their successors, Jesus himself. And where Jesus is, there the Father also is. We often complain of the limitations, shortcomings and sins of popes, bishops and priests. To be sure, we have the right to expect of them that holiness which is suitable for them; but more often than not we forget to see in them Jesus. It is true that sometimes they do their best to prevent us from seeing him; but we also should do our best to ignore their faults and consider in them the office more than the person. The apostles are just instruments whom God uses to carry out his plans. As Mother Teresa said, “a little pencil in God’s hands.”